Process for formal complaints of sexual harassment

University of Washington policies that address sexual misconduct by students are contained in the Student Conduct Code and the Student Conduct Policy for Discriminatory and Sexual Harassment, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Misconduct, Stalking, and Retaliation.

The Department of Education’s Title IX regulations (EDFR) only apply to specific types of allegations.  Title IX Investigation Office investigations may include allegations of both EDFR-prohibited conduct and conduct that is otherwise prohibited by the Student Conduct Code and related policies. For example, in some cases these allegations overlap, and in some cases, the University’s definitions of sexual misconduct are broader—meaning the University prohibits more behavior than the federal rules. The University’s policies also apply in a greater number of circumstances including, for example, to conduct that occurs off-campus or in connection with study abroad programs. University policies apply to more conduct and in a great number of locations because the work and educational experiences of members of the university community and others who interact with them may still be impacted by sexual misconduct that does meet the narrower federal definitions or that does not occur on the Bothell, Seattle, or Tacoma campuses.

The University acknowledges these procedures are complex: the EDFR are complex; the regulations and their accompanying commentary are more than 2000 pages and may be found here.  EDFR procedures, if they apply at all, do not apply to any misconduct that is alleged to have occurred prior to August 14, 2020.

In general, complaints of EDFR-prohibited conduct include a mandatory, live hearing and include appeal rights of the decision following the hearing. However, even in cases where EDFR allegations have been made, the University will also make determinations as to whether allegations of misconduct based on definitions contained in Part II of the Student Conduct Code are supported by evidence.

Before a complaint has been made:

  • Supportive measures: Regardless of whether a complainant chooses to request an investigation, they may request supportive measures. They may contact a confidential advocate and/or the Office of the Title IX Coordinator for supportive measures. Respondents (the person who is accused of sexual misconduct) may be eligible for supportive measures as well and should contact the university’s Respondent Resource Coordinator, within the office of Community Standards and Student Conduct.
  • Before engaging in the process: Complainants may wish to consult with a confidential advocate to learn more about the investigation and adjudication process.
  • Also, complainants and respondents may bring two people with them to any meeting with an investigator. They may be accompanied by:
    • An advisor, though an advisor is not required during the investigation phase. Any person may fill this role; this person may or may not be an attorney, i.e. someone licensed to practice law in Washington. During interviews, this person will not be able to speak on a complainant’s or respondent’s behalf, but they may provide support and advice. If the complainant or respondent select someone who will be or is likely to also be a witness in the process, the chosen advisor will likely have to answer questions about potential bias and conflicts of interest.
    • A support person. This person may accompany a complainant or a respondent to interviews and any hearing, though they may not participate during either. This person is called a “support advisor.” Often, a confidential advocate serves this role for the complainant, and a respondent resource serves this role for the respondent.

An advisor’s or support person’s unavailability cannot unduly delay the investigation and hearing process, and the University may therefore proceed with the investigation in the absence of an advisor or support person when they are not available.

What to expect during the reporting process and investigation:

  • Intake meeting & formal complaint: At the first meeting with an investigator, a complainant will share information about what happened and likely be asked questions to clarify what they share. They may also provide documents, such as screenshots of social media messages, emails, or anything else that might be helpful to the investigator, and identify additional witnesses the investigator may want to interview. The investigator will provide information about the EDFR proceedings. An investigation of prohibited conduct will not occur until the investigator has received a formal complaint. A formal complaint is a written document that the complainant (or the Title IX Coordinator) submits which alleges sexual misconduct and requests that the University conduct an investigation.
  • Response to complaint: If a complainant files a formal complaint, the investigator will assess the allegations and the University’s jurisdiction. The investigator will assess: whether the conduct alleged would violate the Student Conduct Code, whether the alleged behavior would be EDFR-prohibited conduct, and whether the jurisdictional grounds and other criteria required for the EDFR process to apply are met. In the event that the alleged misconduct as described does not violate the Student Conduct Code, would not meet the definition of EDFR-prohibited conduct, and/or does not meet other criteria for the EDFR process to apply, the complainant will be informed of this. In some cases, the formal complaint will be dismissed in its entirety, and in other cases, an allegation (or several) may be dismissed. It is possible no investigation will be opened; it is also possible an investigation that does not contain allegations of EDFR prohibited conduct will be opened. Both a complainant and respondent may appeal an investigation’s determination that the EDFR process does not apply. If one party appeals the dismissal, the other party will have an opportunity to respond to the appeal. When the investigator determines the alleged misconduct, if proven, would violate the Student Conduct Code, the complainant will receive a draft of the allegations for their review, which will be finalized and used to provide notice to the complainant and the respondent that an investigation has been opened.
  • Initial notification: If an investigation is initiated, the complainant and the respondent will be notified in writing of the allegations and other information about the proceedings. If a specific EDFR allegation(s) is not included or the University determined the 2020 federal Title IX regulations do not apply, the initial notification will state that. In either case, the complainant and the respondent will be provided with the opportunity to appeal any decision that the federal regulations do not apply to a specific allegation or the formal complaint in its entirety. The notice will provide some specific information, if it is known, about the allegations, such as the identity of the complainant, the date(s) and location(s) of the alleged misconduct, and some factual information about the allegations.
  • Presumption of non-responsibility, standard of proof, and potential sanctions: At the time a formal complaint is made, a respondent is presumed to be not responsible for violating University policy or conduct that constitutes EDFR sexual harassment.  The determination as to whether a respondent is responsible is based on a preponderance of evidence standard (i.e. “more likely than not”).  The potential sanctions for a student who has violated the Student Conduct Code are: reprimand, loss of privileges, probation, suspension, and dismissal from the University.
  • Fact finding: Throughout the investigation, the investigator will conduct separate interviews of the complainant, the respondent, and additional witnesses. The investigator will give each person the opportunity to provide an account of what occurred and may ask each witness for documentation. The investigator may communicate with the complainant and respondent about documents and other witnesses. After the investigator has interviewed third party witnesses, the investigator may ask to interview the complainant and the respondent again. The complainant and respondent will be given written notice of any interviews. The fact finding phase is expected to take approximately 60 business days but may take longer to accommodate delays caused by breaks in the University academic calendar, the temporary unavailability of witnesses, collection of evidence, or other reasons.
  • Conclusion of investigation: After thoroughly reviewing the information gathered during the fact finding, the investigator concludes the investigation. The investigator will share with the complainant, the respondent, and their respective advisors (if any) the evidence that directly relates to the EDFR allegations. The investigator will also send a draft investigative report that summarizes the evidence the investigator finds relevant. The complainant and respondent will have a brief period during which they may respond to the draft report and state any position about the relevance of additional evidence. The investigator will then issue a final investigative report and send that report to the complainant, the respondent, and their respective advisors (if any). The complainant, respondent, and any advisors may be required to maintain confidentiality with respect to the report and evidence.
  • Title IX Investigation Office decision not final: In any case involving allegations of EDFR sexual harassment, the University will hold a live hearing. Any determinations reached by Title IX Investigation Office investigators are not final, and a hearing officer will make an independent, unbiased determination after a hearing. Note that the process is somewhat different for cases that do not involve allegations of EDFR sexual harassment (or in which the EDFR allegations are dismissed, leaving only non-EDFR allegations). That process is summarized here [hyperlink to main page] and may at times end in a final decision made by the Title IX Investigation Office.

What to expect during a hearing:

  • Initiation of hearing process: A hearing officer will initiate a hearing and provide notice and information to the complainant and the respondent about the hearing.
  • Pre-hearing process: The hearing officer will receive the final investigative report and directly-related evidence gathered by the Title IX Investigation Office investigator. The complainant and the respondent may ask the hearing officer to exclude certain evidence from consideration or include additional evidence and may propose witnesses who should appear at the hearing. The hearing officer will determine which evidence is admissible and which witnesses may testify. If a complainant or respondent has failed to identify evidence or witnesses during the investigative portion of the proceedings and do not have a good reason for waiting to identify them until the hearing, the hearing officer may decide to exclude them.
  • Hearing process: The hearing will be a live hearing in which the complainant, the respondent, and any witnesses participate. The hearing may be conducted in part or entirely via remote technology such as Zoom. The hearing will occur within seven weeks of the final investigative report unless there is a reason for its delay. The unavailability of advisors cannot unduly delay a hearing, as the University will appoint an advisor if a party does not have one. A hearing will occur no earlier than ten calendar days after the final investigative report was issued to the parties and any advisors.
  • Cross-examination: The hearing will feature live cross-examination of the complainant, the respondent, and any witnesses. This cross-examination must be conducted by an advisor, who may or may not be an attorney. (Note: while advisor participation is discretionary prior to the hearing, each party must have an advisor to conduct cross-examination at the time of the hearing.) Parties may arrange for an attorney at their own expense. If a party does not arrange for their own advisor, the University will appoint an advisor to conduct the cross-examination. The University-appointed advisor may or may not be an attorney. In addition to the advisor who will conduct cross-examination, each party may also be accompanied by a support person.
  • Guidelines pertaining to hearing: The hearing officer will communicate with the complainant, respondent, and their advisors about the specifics of how the hearing will be run. For example, the hearing officer may set time limits on opening and/or closing remarks, specify how evidence is to be introduced or challenged, or establish other details about the mechanics of conducting the hearing.
  • Written determination following hearing: After examining the evidence—including the testimony of the complainant, the respondent, and witnesses—the hearing officer will issue a decision in writing. The written decision will be made within 90 calendar days, consistent with the Washington State Administrative Procedure Act (another law the university must follow). This decision may be appealed (such an appeal is also referred to as an Administrative Review).

What to expect in an appeal (an administrative review) from a hearing:

  • Grounds for appeal: The hearing officer’s decision may be appealed on the following grounds, and any others that are specified in the Student Conduct Code:
    • Procedural irregularity that affected the outcome;
    • A material error that substantially affected the outcome of the fact finding or sanctioning;
    • New evidence that was not reasonably available at the time of the hearing that could affect the outcome; or
    • The Title IX Coordinator, Title IX Investigation Office investigator, Hearing Officer, or reviewer of any dismissal (in the case a specific allegation(s) was dismissed early in the process) had a bias or conflict of interest that affected the outcome.
  • Appeal requirements: The appeal must be in writing, must state the basis for the appeal, and must either (1) identify the procedural irregularity and how it affected the outcome; (2) identify the material error and how it impacted the outcome of the fact finding and/or sanctioning; (3) identify the new evidence, why it was not reasonably available, and how its absence affected the outcome; and/or (4) identify the bias or conflict of interest and how that bias or conflict of interested affected the outcome. If the appeal is based on previously unavailable evidence, that evidence must be included when the appeal is submitted.
  • Response to appeal: If a party appeals, the other party will be notified, will receive a copy of the appeal, and will have an opportunity to respond to the appeal.
  • Appeal decisions: Appeals will be decided by personnel who were not previously involved in the decision. Appeals will be issued in writing within 30 calendar days of the deadline for receipt of the non-appealing party’s response.

Non-retaliation:  Participants in the grievance process described here may not be punished or retaliated against for their actions if they are made in good faith. Participants who believe they have been retaliated against should contact the Title IX Investigation Office immediately.